Champion Hurdle 2010: Important Fact

It may be over a quarter of a year away, dear reader, but the Cheltenham Festival is already entering the peripheral vision of our mind's eye.

Unluckily for me, I'm unable to watch the racing (due to time constraints, not technology / geography). Or is it unlucky? You see, the nature of the ante-post betting markets, and indeed human nature itself, is based on overreaction and correction.

I'm sure there's a scientific terminology for it, but what I mean is that when a team loses a match, their odds to win the championship elongate, generally disproportionately to their actual chances. A better example is cricket: when a team loses a wicket, they drift a fair whack straight after the umpire raises a finger to the dismissed batsman.

In golf, when putts are made or missed, odds fluctuate before settling.

My point? The main horses that will contest the Champion Hurdle (and other championship events) at Cheltenham next March need to be at the pinnacle of their performance in four months time. Not now.

So, if a horse is beaten - or wins emphatically - at this stage, we need not be overly worried. For me, I've not had the evidence of my eye or the generally ovine rhetoric of the press to mismanage my punting portfolio.

Rather, I've taken a different view (as I generally do). I started by looking at the performance of Champion Hurdle winners prior to the start of December in the season they won the race. I then went on to review the pick of their previous season form.

The results made very interesting reading, and are reflected below:

Year Winner Best Run Prior To December
2009 Punjabi Debut on 6th December (WON)
2008 Katchit WON Aintree Hcap Hdle
2007 Sublimity Debut on 27th January (WON)
2006 Brave Inca WON Punchestown Hdle (G2)
2005 Hardy Eustace Debut on 14th December (2nd)
2004 Hardy Eustace 2nd Navan Hurdle (G2)
2003 Rooster Booster WON Chelt Hcap Hdle (Listed)
2002 Hors La Loi III 2nd Ascot Hurdle (G2)
2001 No Race No Race
2000 Istabraq 2nd Hattons Grace (G1)

We can see that no horse had overcome finishing further back than 2nd in their best run prior to December of their Champion Hurdle winning season.

More interesting though is the previous seasonal record of winners:

Year Winner Best Run Season Prior
2009 Punjabi 3rd Champion Hurdle (G1)
2008 Katchit WON Triumph Hurdle (G1)
2007 Sublimity 4th Supreme Novices Hdle (G1)
2006 Brave Inca 3rd Champion Hurdle (G1)
2005 Hardy Eustace WON Champion Hurdle (G1)
2004 Hardy Eustace WON RSA Hurdle (G1)
2003 Rooster Booster WON County Hurdle (G3 Hcap)
2002 Hors La Loi III 2nd Kingwell Hurdle (G2)/ 2nd Champion HUrdle 2000
2001 No Race No Race
2000 Istabraq WON Champion Hurdle (G1)

Here we note that of the nine races run in the last ten years (remember foot and mouth?!), five were won by horses who had won at the previous Cheltenham Festival. Of the remaining four race winners, three placed in the previous Champion Hurdle, and one more was 4th in a Grade 1 at the Festival the year before.

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Let's take this a step further then, and apply it to the horses who won or were close up last year, some of whom are going chasing this season:

Odds Supreme Novices Hurdling or Chasing?
33/1 Go Native Hurdling
40/1 Medermit Hurdling
Somersby Chasing
Copper Bleu Chasing?
Champion Hurdle
14/1 Punjabi Hurdling
8/1 Celestial Halo Hurdling
7/2 Binocular Hurdling
Crack Away Jack Chasing

Triumph Hurdle
14/1 Zaynar Hurdling
Walkon Injured New Year at least
66/1 Mourad Hurdling?
25/1 Starluck Hurdling
County Hurdle
American Trilogy Chasing?
RSA/Ballymore Hurdle
Mikael D'Haguenet Going Chasing

My current view on these is as follows:

Supreme Novices Comments
Go Native Loved Chelt hill and fast ground, generous price
Medermit Same track record as Binocular, 11 times the price
Copper Bleu
Champion Hurdle
Punjabi Win and 3rd in Champion AND 4th in Triumph say he's sure to run his race again
Celestial Halo Won Triumph, 2nd in Champion. Big shout.
Binocular Two runs at Cheltenham, two defeats, too short!
Crack Away Jack
Triumph Hurdle
Zaynar 1-1 at the track, but tough for 4yo's…
Mourad Lots to find on the face of it, throwaway punt?
Starluck Confirmed track liking when hacking up mid-Oct, emerging contender?

So, I've ruled out the first three in the betting.

Binocular at 7/2 is too short for me. He's yet to win at the track and is likely to find one or two too good again.

Solwhit and Hurricane Fly follow him in the market at around 5/1 each. Neither have ever raced at Cheltenham, something all of the nine above had done (Hors La Loi couldn't run the previous season because of the sheep-burning extravaganza that took place across the nation, but had previously been Champion Hurdle runner up the year before the sheepshank reedemption).

Now at this point, there will be fans of these nags cussing and spitting at their computer screens (or at least mildly agitated). Let me be clear on two points:

1. Because a horse hasn't won the Champion for at least ten years without showing prior good form at the track, it doesn't mean that it cannot be done. It does mean that the odds are stacked against such a feat.

2. There are plenty of races at Cheltenham between now and March for those horses to run in, and prove their affection (or otherwise) for the circuit.

Ok, that over with, let's get back to the hosses (as they say over here - we give these guys a perfectly good language and look what they do to it! Sorry to Unk John and any other US readers!)

Next in the betting, and my idea of the most likely winner at this stage, is 8/1 chance Celestial Halo. Touched off last year, and winner of the Triumph Hurdle the year before, the Halo was in fine fettle when bolting up under top weight in a decent enough contest at Wincanton t'other week.

I can't see him being out of the frame if he gets there in one piece.

Of the others, Punjabi also has an enviable track record and, as the reigning champ, derserves more credit than he might have received to date. Certainly, if you make Binocular a 7/2 shot, Punjabi's fourfold bigger odds (14's  availablewith William Hill) look generous at least.

I make him the pick of the each way value, though suspect that Celestial Halo will reverse the form this time.

Finally, as a longshot poke, Go Native is very interesting. Sure, he's been beaten by Hurricane Fly. Sure, he was disappointing in a Noddy race last time. But he loved the Cheltenham hill and powered up it to touch off Medermit last March. He'll have gas in the tank when many of the others have spun out or run dry. Whether he's close enough to optimally use it remains to be seen. At 33/1 in various places (45/1 Betfair), he's a great longshot wager for the race.

Whatever you fancy, make sure it's got course form, ideally at the Festival.


I'm now on the West Coast again, having spent time in Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Yosemite. Last night was crazy golf and disco ten pin bowling in Santa Cruz (a truly mad place which was very cool for a short space of time but would defeat me within a week); today has seen rain and storms in Monterey.

We'll be off to Cannery Row (of the Steinbeck novel) and the Aquarium tomorrow, before pootling southwards past the Sur's (Little and Big) and down to Hearst Castle. We'll take in the preposterous opulence of William Randolph Hearst, prior to parking up in San Luis Obispo for Saturday night / Sunday.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

Then we'll be hitting Santa Barbara and a couple of other destinations as yet undetermined, prior to dropping anchor in San Diego for five weeks. I've got some great stuff planned for the time, which will be a workathon (believe it or not!), despite a location sandwiched twenty paces from Mission Bay on one side, and twenty paces from the Pacific Ocean on the other.

I am really missing you guys and the blog, and can't wait to get back to more regular to and fro in a few days time.

Until then,


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7 replies
  1. Avatar
    Richard Noy says:

    I know exactly where you are and can picture it well! Jealous? You bet! A nice crab salad in Monterey would do me fine! meanwhile your (outside the box” thinking for the festival is well appreciated! It’s close to the famous adage “Never bet a horse to do something it’s never done before”! Punjabi and Go Native are now definitely in my radar! Enjoys the “Surs”! (and come back safe!)

  2. Avatar
    ray says:

    another good post .
    any chance you can help us out with the rest of the cheltenham meeting in march . i go every year but always finish behind my mates when it comes to picking winners . e/w im ok.

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Thanks Richard – looking forward to Cannery Row and the Surs today.
      Ray, I’ll be doing LOTS more Cheltenham preview / stat attacks between now and March, so keep reading. 🙂
      Frank, many thanks for your kind words. And rest assured, I’ll still be writing here!


  3. Avatar
    Sean says:

    Suitably jealous as I’m working nights in pouring rain!! Good comments re Champion hurdle. Keep up the good work.

  4. Avatar
    sanjay says:

    I think you’ll see a different Binocular this year. I’ve steamed in at 5/1 ante-post but am not surprised that he’s now 7/2. Roll on the fighting fifth hurdle!!!!!!!

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